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Obedience Class–Why It Is Important & The Watch Command

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February 7, 2012 by Shannon

Rama at Obedience class
No matter whether your dog is a pet, a show dog or working dog, obedience is a must.  You have to have control of your dog at all times.  Basic obedience not only instills manners and confidence in your dog, it helps solidify your relationship as dog and handler.  Every dog should attend at least a basic obedience class.  Of you bring your little bundle of fluff home as a pup, puppy kindergarten class is an invaluable experience. These classes are geared mainly toward socialization but also lay the foundation for formal obedience commands later.
Many owners are reluctant to attend class because they believe their dog “minds fine at home” and therefore doesn’t need additional training or they’re worried that their dog will embarrass them.  If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “He does it at home,” I’d be a gazillionaire.  And trust me, your dog is not the only one to ever act up in class.  It’s not something that instructors have never encountered before or experienced themselves.  As for listening to you at home, if you don’t ever intend to take your dog anywhere else, that might do.  But most of us take our dog for walks, to the vet’s office, dog park and many other places where they come into contact with things that they would not normally encounter at home.  A Sit means that your dog will not only sit at home, but outside, on a busy street, when someone rolls a ball by him/her, when a squirrel runs by, at the vet’s office and the dog park. Knowing what Sit means and performing it reliably are two different things.
Rama demonstrating the Sit

One of the first things you need to establish with your dog is good attention.  Get them to look at you.  All good things come from you–attention, praise, their favorite squeaky toy, yummy goodies.  Whatever it takes, you must get them to look at you.   If they are looking at you, they cannot be forging ahead, sniffing that dead thing on the ground, or barking at that dog coming across the street toward you. 

Take a yummy treat (something only reserved for training time) and trace a line from your dog’s nose to your face, somewhere near your eyes.  Say “watch” or “watch me” one time, and when their eyes meet yours, praise immediately (“Good watch!”) and give them the treat.  Repeat this several times a day, every day.  Eventually slack off on the treats so that they are not getting a goodie every single time.  They will learn to expect it.  Replace the treat with petting and verbal praise every so often.
Practicing attention work
With very small breeds, you can start out on the ground with them, but eventually you will be moving–such as with Heel–so you might need a bit of a prop.  For these small dogs, whose poor little necks would have to be craned incredibly far upward to see your face when you are standing up, you can use what I call a training wand.  Get yourself one of those shiny, ringing, feathery cat toys that come on a stick and place the end of it against your leg or hip, and this will serve as their focal point when you are on the move.  I’ve also seen people use wooden spoons with a bit of peanut butter.
Practice this randomly throughout the day, not just when you are at class or at the same time every day.  Mix it up and vary locations and times, so that your dog will learn to watch you no matter where you are or what is happening around them.  A dog with great attention is a beautiful thing to watch.  It takes work, but you can get there!
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